Senior Class of 2008 is one Unselfish Bunch

They may go down as the most unselfish group of seniors in Gator history. To a man they gave up something in order for the Gators to be a better football team until their senior year. The 2008 class of Florida Gators has a lot to hang their hats on when they reflect in years to come. Saturday, they will be recognized and should as a group that gave a lot and rarely was recognized for it.

Maybe no person represents unselfish play on this 2008 version of the Florida Gators than running back Kestahn Moore. Moore actually started his first game as a true freshman in 2005, Head Coach Urban Meyer's first year. Since that point in time, he has basically seen his time on the field diminish for one reason or another. Moore has always been one of those backs that excelled at all the things that running backs don't usually like to do. He is a huge blocker in pass protection, runs excellent routes, and can lead block for a bruising quarterback running the ball when asked.

Moore's role as a senior has dropped significantly with playmakers Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey in the mix at the position, but he has remained a team leader and pushes his position mates to be better even though they have collected all of the spot light. He is a member of the 1,000 yard rushing club at UF and currently has 1,231 total rushing yards to his credit with a very healthy 5.4 yards per carry average.

Wide receiver Louis Murphy has never been the main target in Florida's offense. At times, the fastest Gator on the team in his career, Murphy has always had the speed and the ability to make plays. Like Moore, Murphy was part of Urban Meyer's first recruiting class in 2005 but he also is the lone carryover of the class that was committed to Ron Zook and company before the previous staff was fired.

Murphy waited his turn and has started for the last two seasons. Although he has never been the number one target for this Gator offense through the air, he still has a combined 1,042 yards 10 touchdowns receiving in his career. He also sports a healthy 15.6 yards per catch average.

Tight ends Tate Casey and Cornelius Ingram deserve credit for sticking around in an offense that had to develop the use of the position at all. Both were recruited and signed by Zook and company in the class of 2004. Casey played his freshman season and had a carer high four touchdown catches as a rookie. His role has diminished greatly with the emergence of Ingram and sophomore Aaron Hernandez, but Casey stuck it out.

Who would ever forget the jump pass touchdown catch from quarterback Tim Tebow to really get the ball rolling in the 2006 national title season match up with LSU. Casey has a career total of 342 yards and seven touchdowns as we head down the home stretch.

Ingram showed his unselfishness throughout his career. He came in as a highly regarded quarterback and willing to sit behind Chris Leak who came in only a year earlier and started as a true freshman. Ingram remained a quarterback as a freshman under Zook's staff and as a redshirt freshman under Coach Meyer. In 2006, he made the transition to tight end/receiver and was a huge outlet receiver for Leak and Tebow during the season. He played a vital role in the 2006 national championship game.

In 2007, he had a spectacular season as a tight end catching 34 passes for 508 yards. He also led the team in touchdown receptions in 2007. In yet another sign of unselfishness, Ingram passed up his chance to go to the NFL early at the end of the 2007 season to return for his senior campaign and a shot at the national championship. That all ended with a season ending knee injury during preseason drills. Ingram was expected to be a huge part of the 2008 offense on the field and instead has been relegated to a role off the field of which he has been a big inspiration to his teammates.

Maybe no one has suffered more with playing with pain than left guard Jim Tartt. Tartt has 30 career starts to his name and unfortunately on two in his senior season. He is expected to start Saturday, but it has been a disappointing season for the grizzled veteran who has been a big part of the success of the offensive line. Tartt continually displays his unselfish play by playing through injury and wiling himself to finish the next play when he is in the game.

Jason Watkins redshirted his first year on campus and then basically sat for two more seasons as others got to perform on the field. He was the first back up on the offensive line for the national championship season in 2006, and did see playing time when the Gators went to a six man offensive line front. His unselfish attitude and willingness to stick around until it was his time to play has seen him start for two full seasons and is one of the best linemen on the team.

Phil Trautwein had a similar playing career as Watkins although he didn't redshirt as a freshman and started as a true junior in 2006. Trautwein had a heart breaking injury as a senior in 2007 and had to miss his entire senior year. He chose to redshirt that season and returned in 2008 to finish off his career as a Gator. He and Watkins both have 25 starts to their name.

This group of senior offensive linemen have been a huge part of one of the most explosive and efficient offenses in Gator history for the last three years. The 2008 season will mark the first time since the wish bone days of the 70's that the Gators will have 2,000 plus yards rushing in three consecutive seasons. The Gators are on schedule to finish with 2,998 rushing yards on the season. That would be the second most in Gators' history.

This is beginning to sound like a broken record, but the unselfishness continues with the play of Javier Estopinan. A man without a position these days, Estopinan went from starting defensive tackle in 2007 where he hurt his knee and ended his season, to now a fullback/tight end on offense where he is a lead blocker on short yardage situations. He is also a key cog on Urban Meyers fantastic punt coverage unit. Meyer calls him the quarterback of his coverage units.

Jonathan Phillips never started before his senior year and took a chance that it may not happen again to come back for his senior season even though he already graduated and was accepted into law school. All Phillips has done in the meantime is kick 9-of-9 field goals on the season and been Mr. Reliable when called on in the clutch.

James Smith has been the starting long snapper for the Gators for four full seasons. Often the first man down on tackles after snapping the ball on punts, Smith made a huge play against South Carolina last week when he stuck with his assignment, sniffed a throwback pass on a punt return and gathered up the errant throw almost resulting in a touchdown for himself. He has been known for his heady play and consistency on special teams and should go down in the Long Snapper Hall of Fame if there was one at the University of Florida.

If this wasn't enough, this class is absolutely one of the best ever off the field as well. Four members have already graduated with bachelor's degrees from the University of Florida... Javier Estopinan, Jim Smith, Phil Trautwein, and Jonathan Phillips.

Four more, Tate Casey, Jim Tartt, Cornelius Ingram, and Louis Murphy will all graduate with their bachelor's in December and Trautwein will earn his masters in December. Kestahn Moore will complete the circle of seniors when he graduates at the end of his fourth year in May.

Some of their accomplishments on the field so far include a National Championship, two SEC Eastern Division Championships, the best record in the SEC during the last three years (19-5), 14-1 vs. the SEC East last three years, an overall record of 40-9, 24-2 in The Swamp.

The great thing about this class is that there is still more left to write about them. There are more firsts in line for this class if they can finish the season without losing a game. If that happens, this small sampling of the overall team will be one of the most memorable classes of all time.

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